By Jacob Bourne
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is in the midst of an environmental review process for the nation’s first high-speed rail system. This involves gathering public feedback on project plans at meetings and accepting public comments until June 10. According to Will Gimpel, project manager of the San Francisco to San Jose section, the comments will directly influence the review process to identify a range of project actions that need to be analyzed for the Peninsula section.[contextly_sidebar id=”PoRE9ZkwKFlRdCfJC2YBfA9d1KTDtQ9P”]The $64.2 billion project to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles with HSR is in construction at six job sites spanning 32 miles in Fresno County. There’s already a $3 billion investment for this section that’ll run 119 miles from Merced to Bakersfield. The third installment of the Authority’s business plan was released this spring and includes details for a revenue-generating rail system from San Francisco to Bakersfield, signaling a shift of immediate focus from the Southern California section to the Peninsula. Current estimates for the project’s completion are 2025 for San Francisco to San Jose, and 2029 for San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The 51 miles of HSR from San Francisco to San Jose will be unique in its blend of service with Caltrain tracks. Proposed stations at 4th and King in San Francisco, SFO in Millbrae, and Diridon Station in San Jose, will require the electrification and modification of Caltrain tracks to achieve the targeted 30 minutes of travel time at up to 110 miles per hour for the Peninsula corridor. To reach the goal of having six Caltrain commuter trains and four HSR trains pass through the corridor per hour, up to 24.1 miles of passing tracks will be built.
Community members gathered at the San Mateo Marriott on May 24 to hear presentations by Authority and Caltrain representatives. Since 2008, the project has received doses of criticism from those with concerns ranging from potential increases in traffic, public safety, reduced emergency vehicle response times, and lack of planning for grade separations.
With 42 at-grade crossings along the Peninsula corridor, Gimpel reported that it would be costly and involve too much construction to create all separations at once. Instead, the Authority plans to develop a longer term grade separation program in addition to mitigating significant issues by analyzing gate-down times and traffic impacts.
Proponents of the project believe that HSR is an essential element of sustainable transportation planning given that California’s population is expected to increase to 50 million people by mid-century. The Authority asserts that over 12 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced annually by HSR.
Gary Patton, an attorney with the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail, claims that the Authority has demonstrated a lack of proper planning for the Peninsula section coupled with inconsistencies in the business plan iterations.
“It will destroy traffic patterns on the Peninsula, and this has not been studied by the Authority,” Patton said. “The Authority and Caltrain haven’t planned how to make this system work without destroying communities on the Peninsula and that’s unacceptable and illegal.”
The CCHSR and the City of Atherton are suing Caltrain, alleging that it’s violating the California Environmental Quality Act by segmenting environmental analysis of the track electrification instead of conducting a holistic analysis along with the HSR project.
Caltrain plans to introduce electrified service by 2020 pending $125 million in the 2017 Federal Budget requested by the Obama Administration. The funding is through the FTA Core Capacity Grant Program expected to be finalized in 2016.